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Pesticides fingered in UK honeybee wipeout

Further suspicion falls on neonicotinoids

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A new study appears to have confirmed suspicions that the neonicotinoid group of pesticides is in part responsible for the dramatic decline in UK honeybee numbers, the Telegraph reports.

Insect research charity Buglife and the Soil Association "brought together a number of peer-reviewed pieces of research" which demonstrate that neonicotinoids "damage the health and life cycle of bees over the long term by affecting the nervous system".

Previous scientific tests suggested a possible link between one of the neonicotinoids, imidacloprid, and disruption of honeybees' "sophisticated communication and navigation systems". Fears over the chemical earlier this year prompted the Co-op to ban the use of all neonicotinoids on its 70,000 acres of land in in England and Scotland, "until they are shown to be safe".

Germany, Italy and Slovenia last year similarly banned all neonicotinoids in response to the honeybee crisis, while French farmers have not been able to deploy imidacloprid as a sunflower seed-dressing for ten years.

Matt Shardlow, Buglife chief exec, said: “Other countries have already introduced bans to prevent neonicotinoids from harming bees. This is the most comprehensive review of the scientific evidence yet and it has revealed the disturbing amount of damage these poisons can cause."

Peter Melchett, director of the Soil Association, added: “The UK is notorious for taking the most relaxed approach to pesticide safety in the EU. Buglife’s report shows that this puts at risk pollination services vital for UK agriculture."

However, Dr Julian Little of Bayer CropScience - which manufacturers oilseed rape insecticide Chinook, containing imidacloprid - said that pesticides are "not approved unless it is found they have no effects on insects like bees".

He insisted: "When it comes to bee health, pesticides are not the problem, disease is."

Whether Dr Little is right remains to be seen. The Department for Environment, Food And Rural Affairs' initial findings as to the cause of honeybee population collapse suggested "the possible implication of abnormally wet weather - which may have hindered the bees' ability to collect enough food to survive the winter - coupled with the single-celled fungus Nosema, which might have taken advantage of the insects' rain-induced confinement and stressed state to spread with deadly effect", as we put it back in January. ®

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